High Tide, low turnout

HighTideLowTurnoutAlabama fans are greeted with a familiar sight as kickoff nears for a football game in Bryant-Denny Stadium. It’s as common as seeing the Million Dollar Band on the field or the pre-game “Tradition” video.

Only this one isn’t so inspiring.

The upper deck student section, where students are sent once the lower bowl has reached capacity, is never filled and has become an eyesore for many fans. It’s a blemish on what some say would otherwise be the most spectacular sight in college football – 101,000-plus fans packed into one stadium to watch a football game.

The student section has never filled up completely, or even come close, according to information received from The University of Alabama under an open-records request.

Alabama’s season opener against San Jose State in 2010 drew the most students since 2008, when the University started using ACT Cards for football tickets and the earliest that data was made available. Of the 17,000 seats given to students, only 13,638 were filled for the game. That means 3,362 tickets went unused, and the section was just over 80 percent capacity.

And only 69.4 percent of student tickets were used in 2012, the lowest rate since 2009.

Western Carolina was the least-attended game by students in 2012 and since 2008, with just 5,995 students showing up. Auburn was the second-least with 10,851. The highest-attended game of the season was Ole Miss (13,486) followed by Mississippi State (13,483) and the Tide’s home opener against Western Kentucky (13,459). Alabama’s only loss of the season to Texas A&M was viewed by 13,385 students, while 11,959 attended the Tide’s game against Florida Atlantic.

The second-highest attended game by students since 2008 was Arkansas in 2011 (13,564), followed by Penn State in 2010 (13,522).

The “Game of the Century” between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU on Nov. 5, 2011 drew just 12,646 students.

Bryant-Denny expanded from 92,012 to 101,821 seats for the 2010 season. Student seating was increased from 15,000 seats to 17,000 and all tickets are sold before the season, said Doug Walker, associate athletics director for media relations.

Pre-expansion, the most-attended game was the 2009 season opener against Florida International (11,929), where capactiy reached just 79.5 percent. More students saw that game than Alabama’s last-second victory against Tennessee that season (11,315), Julio Jones’ late touchdown to beat LSU later in the year (11,481) or the Homecoming game against South Carolina (11,339).

No game in 2008 cracked the 11,000-mark, including the season opener against Tulane (10,929) or Alabama’s 36-0 win over Auburn (10,481), which broke a six-year losing streak to the Tide’s cross-state rival.

Walker said the University has not had discussions about reducing the number of tickets given to students and that the lower bowl does not let in more students than there are seats.

“Alabama could play the Steelers in the Super Bowl at Bryant-Denny Stadium and the upper deck of the student section wouldn’t fill up,” said Tommy Deas, sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News. “There are certainly enthusiastic football fans among the student body at Alabama. But there’s not as many of them as there are tickets, apparently.”

The lack of attendance is part of a general trend of apathy among UA students, which also includes leaving early during blowout games. For a school whose victories have come at an average margin of 31 points per game, it’s easy to see why students could become lethargic toward sitting through a blowout game.

Still, a half-empty student section is not exactly aesthetically pleasing for outsiders, Deas said.

“I thought for awhile that maybe the library was closing early so they were rushing to go get their studying in, but I’ve since decided that was not the case,” he said. “You hear a different excuse every week. People were saying that [there weren’t enough exciting home games], and then undefeated Mississippi State comes in and the upper deck’s about half-filled or two-thirds-filled.”

But it was worse before the stadium expanded. In 2009, the year before Alabama won its first national championship under head coach Nick Saban, just 68.4 percent of student tickets were used. A mere 63 percent went used in 2008.

Deas said entitlement plays a key role in the lack of enthusiasm he’s seen from students.

“Students think that just because they get tickets, they don’t have to use them,” he said. “I just don’t understand that when you go to a school with a program like Alabama football – the program is, right now, the best in the country. Yet the only people that seem to be apathetic about it are the people that attend school there.”

However, plenty of students feel otherwise. Katie Norris, a senior majoring in human development, has been an Alabama fan all of her life and can’t imagine doing anything but going to every game and staying the entire time.

“That is the way I was raised,” she said. “I never left a game with my family, so I will never leave a game as a student. I lived through the Shula years with my parents, and my dad would never let us leave the game, even when we were getting demolished. It was so important that we stayed the entire game to him, and I respected that.”

The lack of attendance is especially troubling for fans and alumni that are on long season ticket waiting lists.

“It really hurts to see empty sections of the stadium especially when the demand is so high,” said Christopher Andrews, a lifelong fan that did not attend Alabama, but has been on a waiting list since 2006. “And for me personally, knowing I will probably be buying from ticket brokers for the next decade.”

Some of them feel the seats could be allotted to fans who have waited years for tickets, rather than students who decide not to show up at all.

“I know myself and plenty of other alumni that are willing and able to pay the season ticket prices – if only we had the option of purchasing the tickets,” said Robby Sanford, who graduated from the University in 2008 and said he has been on a waiting list to purchase tickets since. “To know that we would purchase the tickets and actually attend the games – it’s infuriating to see empty sections because others simply chose not to sit there.”

Some students and other fans feel there should be harsher penalties for those who don’t go, including removing some seats until there is an equilibrium between students who regularly attend games and seats in the stadium.

Others suggested students be required to swipe their ACT Card when they leave the stadium, and be given penalty points if they leave before the end of the third quarter.

“In my opinion if you leave a game early, then you have no right to go to the SEC championship game or the national championship game,” Norris said. “Leave those tickets to those of us who actually support the team throughout the entire season.”

Students have the option to donate tickets to a donation pool or transfer them to another student. There is a half point penalty for students who do not do so by a certain time and a 1.5 point penalty for those that do not use their ticket by halftime. Students with three or more points are ineligible to buy postseason tickets as well as tickets for the following season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gerald-D-Tinnon/1112297215 Gerald D. Tinnon

    Solution is clear… eliminate the upper deck student seating and sell to the thousands on the waiting list who actually love to watch Bama football.

  • uagrad

    I went to graduate school at Alabama, but by the time my department had informed me of my admission status, all the tickets were distributed to other students. I paid more than $100 for every single home game the two seasons I was at Alabama. Even my friends still charged me a steep price because if they didn’t sell to me, someone else would pay. It sucked, but it will be that way until UA really penalizes students for not going to games.

  • Just my opinion

    get rid of the ACT cards all together. Go back to paper tickets and let the students find people who will use them. Kids will sell tickets for $10 before they let them go unused, but nobody wants to pay the ridiculous upgrade fee the university charges on top of the $10. It all comes down to money and the university would rather see empty seats than have less money. I saw plenty of student Iron Bowl tickets for $40, but the upgrade fee is $80? Does that make any sense? The university makes so much money on theses upgrade fees

    • disqus_QXSbC6Bo1j

      The upgrade fee is the difference between what normal people pay for the tickets and what students pay. And it doesn’t even include the donation that Tide Pride members pay in addition to the ticket price. If you think $80 is steep for a ticket to an SEC game, the Iron Bowl at that, then you shouldn’t plan on attending any games after you graduate. The fact is students try to sell their $5 tickets for $100+ and get mad when no one wants to pay that price and by then its too late to upgrade and sell at a reasonable price. You hit the nail on the head on the entitlement of the students (and really a large portion of the nation, but that’s another topic).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.mcdaniel.1048 Jeff McDaniel

    While we’re at it, let’s drop block seating for the bros as well. They are just as pathetic to have empty blocks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DMaguire27 Daniel Maguire

    Pathetic. Just pathetic.

  • Garrison S

    I’m a student at UGA and saw this link from a UGA beat writer. We’ve been having the same problem (minus the success) for the last four years I’ve been in school too. UGA tried to solve the problem this year by giving Freshmen first priority when requesting tickets––something Seniors were very upset about. They also implemented a new “strike” system that penalizes students for missing or not donating tickets. Empty seats are still a plague between the hedges, so I am skeptical to whether it actually is working. See ticket policy here: http://bit.ly/QA8sEc

    I agree, it is sad that students leave early and show up late––regardless of fan base. I know I am in the stadium from when gates open to the clock hits 00:00 every home game (win, lose, or blowout). It makes me wonder what the solution is if the problem is larger than just one university.

    If you want to read some thoughts on what might be some solutions (at least at UGA), I wrote a blog outlining some possible solutions for UGA. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/KcHC20

    Looking forward to a good game on Saturday.

  • http://twitter.com/PrimeUnicorn Prime Unicorn

    As an alumnus I find this embarrassing and appalling. Alabama currently has the largest enrollment in its history on top of the #1 football program in the nation over the past 4 years.

    There is no reason for 70% attendance at games – regardless of opponent.

    Luckily, there’s a very easy solution. Reduce the student section by 30% (some 5200 seats) and this problem remedies itself.

  • Paul Crook

    I have been an Alabama fan my entire life, and have two degrees from the University. It’s embarrassing to see that many empty seats in the student section. The easiest way to solve it is to eliminate pre-sale student tickets. Designate, say, a block of 12 thousand seats as the student section and have students line up at the gate. Open the gates three hours before kickoff and the first 12 thousand students who show their student ID’s get in.

  • http://twitter.com/thee_jeff jeff hanson

    Block seating is to blame. i cant blame some students for being turned off while being stuck in the upper deck. jabronis in block seating show up late/leave early and trash the field any time theres a bad call or in the final moments of an occasional loss.

  • Hank L

    The solution is easy, go back to PAPER TICKETS!

  • BeaufortTiger

    We have a similar problem in Clemson, and I suspect it’s a national trend. While each university is different, I suspect there are some national trends which are contributing to this:

    * the binge drinking tailgate culture that permeates college football, particularly among larger programs. This leads to students passing out prior to the game or leaving at halftime to continue to get wasted.

    * the improvements over the years of TV sets in sound and video quality

    * the block-seating schemes – sit with your fraternity or organization, but then get relegated to upper decks

    * the movement by many universities to put more student seating in the upper deck instead of near the fields

    Of course these are things that I’ve witnessed at Death Valley, but I have heard similar complaints at other places.

  • Derpdederp

    Maybe more students should miss games so they could…I dunno, study? So that going to college is meaningful?

  • PDW

    I went there in the Bear days and only missed out of town games. Was so grateful for my student tickets, didn’t have to sit in nosebleed though, students should be close up.

  • Ethan

    I really have a hard time believing that this information is accurate. Plenty of tickets are upgraded and used as student guest tickets every game, and I don’t think these tickets are included in this data set. You can’t tell me that more students went to the San Jose State game in 2010 than last year’s LSU game. And I had to sit in the upper deck for the Penn State game in Bryant Denny and I can personally guuarantee you that there was not a single extra seat.

    This is only one of the innaccuracies though. (Any true fan knows that 2009 was not the year BEFORE our first national championship under Nick Saban, it was the year OF.) It’s dangerous to make bold conclusions based on incomplete data. Do a little more homework before your next article.

    A concerned student

  • http://www.facebook.com/ricky.james.3576 Ricky James

    Faculty/staff should have to swipe act cards as well. The majority of their tickets are just used as a bonus to their pay as they scalp as many as 4 season tickets each. I was an employee for many years and paid other employees several times the face value for tickets. The technology is there now to verify these things. Let fans buy the tickets at face value and eliminate the “brokers” as they’re being called these days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001696243847 Ronny Lee

    The University of Alabama has always been known as a suitcase college. Students go home on the weekend. Also lots of interesting places to go within a few hours drive. I remember when most of the games were played in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa was dead. If not for the frats it would still be dead. I went to UNC Chapel Hill, same way up there, except when there is a basketball game, and you have to pitch a tent and get in line for those tickets.

  • Lee Thaubald

    It seems like there is a simple solution to this. Put the Block Seating in the upper deck!

    That gives all those groups dedicated places to sit, and fill up the upper deck. The rest of the tickets can be used in the lower deck for independent tickets and guests. If Block Seating discourages other students because “the best seats” are reserved, then just give those “best seats” a better view of the stadium from the upper deck. More independent students will attend to be guaranteed a seat near the field, and the university will be happy to see more seats filled.

    Alas, the Block seating will never be moved because of the politics involved. The University is paid either way, so they have no desire to really do anything about it. “A few empty seats? who cares! We got our money!” Sure sure, image suffers, but when they have the money, image gets a lower priority.